History of Communication – Breaking the Grid

The late 18th century and 19th century saw the coming of the Industrial Revolution. This period saw newer technology coming into play and these very much changed the world and had an impact on culture, particularly visual communication.

Printing techniques dating back to the 15th century using movable type had its limitations. Graphic designs were confined to an inflexible grid. If one needed to print something in large quantities, they had to adhere to a system whereby type was fixed in consecutive rows of parallel lines. Illustrations, such as maps were still drawn by hand or engraved and the process had proven to be tedious and costly since it called for skilled artisans to perform those jobs. If there is anything the Industrial Revolution contributed to the development of visual communication, it led to the invention of lithography and this somehow changed the way visual communication and design was done. This was the time of “breaking the grid.”

Lithography

Lithography is a printing method that uses a flat surface, usually metal or stone, on which the image to be printed is receptive to ink but at the same time, the blank areas must not absorb the ink. This entailed making use of the properties of oil and water which proved to be useful because the method took advantage of their qualities that make them repel one another. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder as a cheap alternative in publishing theatrical works (he was an actor).

In its early years, lithography used an image drawn with oil, or any similar substance such as wax or even animal fat onto the surface of a smooth, level stone plate usually made of limestone (and metal would later replace stone). The stone was treated with a mixture of acid and gum arabic, which would leave etches on the stone that were not protected by the greasy substances. When the stone moistened, these etched areas retained water. From there oil-based ink could then be applied and would be repelled by the water, sticking only to the original drawing. The ink would then adhere to the desired areas on the paper.

In time, this method would evolve to become Chromolithography as colors were incorporated into the process. Developed by Godefroy Englemann in 1837, the process was the same only separate stones were used for each color and as a result, the printing went through the press separately for each stone. The output results in flat color tones and these showed in posters of the 19th century. Nowadays, computers perform this task now known as offset printing or lithography.

Photography

Probably one of the best technologies to come out of the Industrial Revolution was photography (cameras). As its name suggests, it is the process of capturing images with the aid of light. Cameras are the devices used in photography. In addition, a medium was needed to hold these images. Nicephore Niepce was the first person to take a photograph in 1826. The technology was improved when he Niepce collaborated with Louis Daguerre which gave birth to the Daguerrotype process of photography.

To make the image, a photographer or technician would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper plate, treat it with fumes from chemicals that made its surface light sensitive. It would then be exposed on a camera for as long as deemed necessary, which would usually take a few seconds if the subject is under the sun or much longer if light was not adequate. During the developing process, the paper that would hold the image was exposed to fumes of mercury vapor to make the image visible, it would receive a liquid chemical treatment to remove its sensitivity to light, which is then washed and dried.

The Daguerreotype became increasingly popular among people who saw photography as a better alternative to having their portraits done by hand painting. This made photographers in demand, but only to the affluent members of society because Daguerreotypes, although attractive, were fragile and difficult to copy, not to mention relatively expensive.

In 1884, an American businessman named George Eastman took photography a notch higher with the introduction of film and along with it a smaller camera that was made affordable to the average folk. This eliminated the need to carry a bulky camera and the requisite equipment. When Eastman founded Kodak, the advertising slogan of the company was “You press the button, we do the rest” and that’s what cameras did, whether it was Instamatic (point and shoot) or SLR (Single Lens Reflex) favored by professional photographers.

Computer technology subsequently found its way to cameras and current models of cameras, now called digital cameras rely on technology to capture images quickly. It also allowed the user to choose the pictures they like and even edit them to suit their tastes with the aid of the appropriate software (like Photoshop).

If there is anything that can be gleaned, lithography and photography have truly broke the grid. They were the products of the Industrial Revolution where everything have been simplified to an extent and allowed for more flexibility rather remain rigid.

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